The first time I cut myself, was the week of my twenty-sixth birthday. I stood in the bathroom, eyes blurred, wrist over the sink, watching the blood run satisfyingly down my arm, mesmerizing my bloodshot blurred eyes. So unnatural and so right at at the same time. I felt stuck in a life I wanted out of, consumed with the need to quiet the noise, so I compromised with razor thin shards of glass that brought the pain to a skin deep level that I could pinpoint. Create. Control. Over and over that weekend.
Throughout the next several years, I would return to the bathroom sink, time after time. The sensation so satisfying, the red lines drawn as I put just enough pressure to draw blood, cursing myself for not having the courage to push deeper. But at least it felt like a stopgap. At least I have this, I told myself, while I figure out how to either get through another day or how to cleanly execute on executing myself.
Mental illness plays by its own rules. It shows up in surprising and unexpected ways. When unhealthy coping behaviors are all it seems we have to cling to, it can feel impossible to escape.
I was much older than most are when I started cutting, which came first as a shock, then as relief, and then became something of an addiction. Cue the hamster wheel of toxic thinking. I judged and shamed myself for being unable to break the cycle. I felt like a total loser who could not manage her life. More self-loathing. More despair. More cutting. Rinse. Repeat.
I remember sitting in my therapist’s office one day a few years later, having a particularly enlightening session when I realized that I was starting to see life less through the lens of my distorted narrative and in a more factual way. Dr. V was an incredible cognitive therapist whose gentle pushes helped me begin to separate reality from my internal interpretation of it; stepping out of the emotions and looking as if from a distance—as the awareness and nothing else. I had begun to realize that many of the stories I had been believing, practically obsessing over, that drove me to such suffering, I had the power to let go. But as I began to open up to the hope that a little bit of sunshine could pierce into my darkness I had a sudden panic about who I would be without the depression and the cutting. The thought of letting it go felt strangely empty. It had taken such root in my life that it was almost it’s own independent presence and I was identified with it. It had become a part of who I saw myself as. Losing it actually scared me a little bit.
I’ve won many battles, but I still fight every day. Even as I write this, I flashback to these overwhelming moments when my only relief from the dark mountain of despair were the red droplets bubbling up.
In his bestselling book A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle talks about the pain-bodies that we carry around, which he describes this way:
“The pain-body is a semiautonomous energy-form that lives within most human beings, an entity made up of emotion. It has its own primitive intelligence, not unlike a cunning animal, and it’s intelligence is directed primarily at survival… Any emotionally painful experience can be used as food by the pain-body… The pain-body is an addiction to unhappiness… The vibrational frequency of the pain-body resonates with that of negative thoughts, which is why only those thoughts can feed the pain-body… Emotion from the pain-body quickly gains control of your thinking, and once your mind has been taken over by the pain-body, your thinking becomes negative. The voice in your head will be telling sad, anxious or angry stories about yourself or your life, about other people, about past, future or imaginary events. The voice will be blaming accusing, complaining, imagining. And you are totally identified with whatever the voice says, believe all its distorted thoughts. At that point, the addiction to unhappiness has set in. It is not so much that you cannot stop your train of negative thoughts, but that you don’t want to. This is because the pain-body at that time is living through you, pretending to be you. And to the pain-body, pain is pleasure. It eagerly devours every negative thought… Every thought feeds the pain-body and in turn the pain-body generates more thoughts. At some point…it has replenished itself and returns to its dormant state, leaving behind a depleted organism and a body that is much more susceptible to illness. If that sounds to you like a psychic parasite, you are right. That’s exactly what it is.”
This realization that I may not totally want to let go of all of the depression was a lightbulb moment. Self-hatred had fueled my pain-body and thus my depression, anxiety and self-harm.
But I learned that I could identify a thought without identifying with the thought. I learned that my feelings are not always true. I learned that I could step back, observe objectively and reframe the thought in terms of reality. I learned to allow myself to be with the thoughts, to see them, examine them, hold them in my hand, as if they were a foreign object. As I began to detach and to understand that I was merely the awareness of the thoughts, not the thoughts themselves, I started seeing the lies that I had believed for what they were.
This breakthrough gave me access to a new way of being, rooted in freedom and self-acceptance. I could thank the mind for it’s opinion, and still choose to cling to what I know as truth. As I practiced allowing myself to be with what was, simply holding space for the part of me that was afraid without identifying with it, the despair slowly began to dissipate. And this opened up the space for Hope.
In this more conscious state, I was able to disempower the thoughts and feelings as I made the choice to step out of identification with them and enter into Presence.
I FEEL like this is the worst day of my life and that’s okay, I KNOW I’ve had worse.
I FEEL like a huge zero and that’s okay, I KNOW that I am loved.
I FEEL like there is nothing for me to live for and that’s okay, I KNOW I want to see my family again.
I KNOW I am enough.
I KNOW I am good.
I KNOW I am created in love.
We are not our thoughts and we are not our feelings. Eventually, the self-harm stopped.
My depression and anxiety are not cured. Part of the reason I write about it is to help me process and better manage my mental and emotional health. I’ve won many battles, but I still fight every day. Even as I write this, I flashback to these overwhelming moments when my only relief from the dark mountain of despair were the red droplets bubbling up. Glass breaking skin, giving me a moment of relief as the pain shot through my body. And the memory tempts me yet. I will probably be managing this for the rest of my life. But this shift in my thinking has greatly diminished my suffering and my love for the beautiful, powerful being that I am grows daily, opening up deep wells of joy for me where there was once just overwhelming hopelessness.
Tolle calls this “the power of allowing.” He writes:
“When you feel the pain-body, don’t fall into the error of thinking there is something wrong with you… The knowing needs to be followed by the accepting. Anything else will obscure it again. Accepting means you allow yourself to feel whatever it is that you are feeling at that moment. It is part of the is-ness of the Now. You can’t argue with what is. Through allowing, you become what you are: vast, spacious. You become whole. Your true nature emerges, which is one with the nature of God.”
For the healing of all,